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Moms and dads, pay close attention to this column. I’m going to pass on some sage advice that was passed on to me and that one day, our children — yours and mine — will pass on as well. Mind you, this advice is one part Griswold-ish Walley World, one part marriage counseling. And this advice will bring your family together, moms and dads — brothers and sisters — like none other you’ll none too soon receive. Here it goes: If, say, Dad is a skier, and if Mom and the kids have never so much as pretended to ski down the stairs, let alone down an alpine slope, here’s how to indoctrinate your consort and brood into Dad’s high-altitude fraternity. I’m here to teach you how to get your family skiing, because this time of year, there’s nothing sadder than a house divided between beach bums and winter warriors.
This advice came from Rick Holliday, owner of Ski Frisco Sports in quaint Frisco, Texas. Rick has become my shrink over the years, especially when I’d go to his store and get my sticks waxed and edged for a guys trip. “Rick, I’ve just got to get my wife and kids on skis,” I’ve said. “I’m going to be old and gray and skiing alone if I don’t. But my wife would rather go to the Gulf, and my daughters have only seen snow once, maybe twice. They have no idea what skiing is.”
“Listen up,” he said. “I’m going to help you. The first thing you have to do is make sure you pick a place that’s second to none in the world. You only have one shot at this: They’ll either love the experience so much that they beg you for more, or, if you do it wrong, you might as well dump some ice cubes on your driveway and you and the kids can run through them, ’cause that’s the closest you’ll come to skiing with the family.”
“OK, good advice,” I said. “Once I find that perfect place, what next?”
“You need to get everyone lessons,” Rick said.
“But I’m planning to …”
“Stop right there,” he said, putting his hand up and shushing me. “Don’t even think — not for a second — that you’re going to teach those girls how to ski, ’cause you’re not. You’re putting your kids in ski school, and you’re getting your wife a private lesson with the best instructor on the mountain. And you’re going to stay in a nice resort. Not a hotel — a resort. And you’re going out to nice dinners with fireplaces and live music so you can relax and the kids can dance. And you’re going to spend some money. And you’re going to thank me later.”
So those were Rick’s marching orders. Now I just had to execute. The thing is, I’ve been skiing so long that there are few mountains in North America I haven’t ridden. I love so many places in so many states for so many different reasons. But if I were to follow Rick’s instructions and do this right, then there was only one place on Earth — let alone in North America — to take my family for their first skiing adventure. Only one mountain on this planet can take a wife who hates the cold and two girls who’ve never built a snowman and turn them into snow bunnies: Vail.
The first step was to find the right resort. The new kid on the block is the Ritz-Carlton. My wife loves hearing those two words, especially when they pertain to her vacation. The Ritz was spectacular: concierge ski and boot service, beautiful lounges, spectacular mountain views and the friendliest staff around. My 3-year-old is now on a first-name basis with Gary, or Mr. Gary, as we are, after all, raising polite, snowless Southern girls.
Now for the skiing: Part of the reason I chose Vail is that its ski schools are world-renowned. My girls had lessons with Nicole Trenck and Sally Slaughter, and I found my wife the best instructor in Vail — Mike Diver — which places him high in the running for best instructor worldwide. They came back tired and spent at the end of the day — but with smiles that wouldn’t come off with Didi Seven.
As for dining, we were within walking distance of one of my favorite restaurants in any mountain town: Tavern on the Square. They had live music in Scott Rednor, who can churn out Bowie songs even better than Ziggy Stardust himself, and my girls were adopted by a couple of couples who were vacationing and also felt like dancing. That’s another reason I chose Vail: Despite its haughty reputation as the playground of the rich and famous, there are real people like the couples who danced with my kids. And like Rednor, whom I met that night and skied with the next day. Real people, professionally cool.
But don’t just take it from me. Let Olympic gold medalist Lindsey Vonn take you for a tour around Vail, which is her home (page 42). After all, when you’re one of the most recognizable faces in all of winter sports and you choose Vail as your stomping grounds, the rest of us should take notice.
As we boarded the plane home from Eagle County Regional Airport, an irregular calm settled over my girls. It was satisfaction derived from sheer enjoyment, coupled with utter exhaustion. But moms and dads, pay close attention to these words muttered by my wife as we flew out of the Rockies and back to the real world: “Babe, that was our best vacation ever. Thank you.”
Moms and dads, please take my advice. And as Rick would say, “Hey, pal, you’re welcome.”